Space Opera With a Twist

Month: July 2016

Life’s Little Pleasures

Among the many other non-writing talents I hone regularly (demolition man, do it yourselfer, photographer, scuba diver, husband, etc) I also cook. All the time. And I like to try new techniques because I can get bored by my own cooking rather quickly, even though Mrs Thomson, the beneficiary of my culinary efforts, never seems to get bored. I suppose not having to do the work yourself makes one more appreciative. Over the non-snowy seasons, I tend to use my gas grill and charcoal smoker/cooker rather frequently, but even with the best of intentions and slow cooking techniques, one can only get so far in producing cuts of meat that are suitably charred on the outside and juicily tender on the inside.

Enter sous-vide cooking.

I recently acquired the means to carry-out sous-vide cooking by purchasing an immersion circulator. It wasn’t exactly inexpensive, but then, I do tend to take my food seriously enough that my doctor noticed (that means I need to lose some weight!). The technique is simple. Season the meat, seal it in bag with all the air removed and immerse it in water at a given temperature for ‘x’ amount of time. Once that’s done, sear it briefly with an open flame (grill, bbq or propane torch) and serve. So far, I’ve tried it with steak, pork chops, chicken breast, salmon and haddock. The steaks turned out medium rare from edge to edge, superbly tender with the tough parts mostly dissolved, the fish buttery and moist to the point of almost dissolving on the tongue and the pork chops moister than I’ve ever achieved. Only the chicken didn’t profit as much from sous-vide, but that stands to reason.  Chicken breast is lean and tender to begin with. Tonight I’ll try lamb loin chops and tomorrow, wild boar medallions.

Eventually, I’ll tackle the more difficult cuts of meat, such as beef back ribs, which need to spend two days (yes 48 hours!) in the sous-vide bath to dissolve the tough connecting tissues and turn into something closer to fall off the bone tender. Pork ribs are on the horizon as well, although I’ve pretty much perfected my technique to slow cook those in the oven or smoke them on the Big Green Egg. One of the techniques I’ve read about was to smoke the ribs for an hour or so to get the flavor going and then place them in the sous-vide immersion. Things to try.

My editor has promised me that I’ll see her comments on Like Stars in Heaven by the end of the long weekend, i.e. in the next 48 hours or so. In the meantime, the first draft of Howling Stars stands at more than 40% completed and will possibly hit the 50% mark by Monday.

If all goes well, Siobhan Dunmoore’s third adventure will be published in August and the fourth Zack Decker sometime mid-autumn, say October. Three books in 2016! Not bad for my first year as full-time scribbler.

Instant Update: the sous-vide lamb loin chops were, hands down, the best I’ve ever eaten.  Moist, tender, evenly cooked, flavourful.  Delightful!

And on the Seventh Day…

On the seventh day, the author rested. Six days of solid tear down have been, shall we say, more fun than water-boarding but less fun than being stuck between a pair of crying babies on a long haul flight. The deck is gone and that part of the basement concerned by this reno is down to the studs and joists, and smelling a lot less like mold, mouse poop and various assorted odors. Out front, a fourteen cubic meter rubbish bin lies in wait for a Monday morning pickup, full to the brim with debris. The contractor’s been by and I’ll have an estimate for the roof repair shortly. Now, if I could only banish the remaining smells and that annoying little cough from breathing in too much crud when I forget to wear a respiratory mask, I’d be in temporary heaven.

Once the area has been waterproofed, I can start rebuilding, with new insulation first, after spraying foam urethane into every nook and cranny to prevent a new generation of mice from taking up residence in fresh, unsullied mineral wool. At my age, I’d rather not have to do this all over again in a few years.

Needless to say, progress on Howling Stars has been next to non-existent in the last week, but my editor assures me she’s progressing on Like Stars in Heaven. Since it’ll be a few weeks before the contractor can slot our job into his list, I’ll be back at the keyboard on Monday, taking breaks from writing only to remove nails and staples left behind by the teardown, and spraying a few patches of mold with a Mike Holmes approved product. The real rebuild will likely not start until later in August or even early September, but I only have to insulate and put up the vapor barrier before winter. I can do the rest in my own sweet time after that.  By the way, I’ve already replaced one incandescent light fixture with an LED ceiling lamp and I’m very pleased with the results.  Not only is it brighter than two 60 watt bulbs, it’s also impervious to the accidental contact with a wayward 2×4 piece of wood.  I’ll be replacing the other two lights in that area with the same type of LED fixture, which will once and for all eliminate the danger of accidentally breaking a fluorescent light tube, with all the crap that would ensue (I’m still baffled that anyone thinks CFLs are in any way rational, when breaking one creates an environmental hazard!).  LED is the way of the future, folks.

Although my middle-aged body feels a tad beat up by six days of non-stop activity, wielding crowbar and hammer, running saws and ripping wood, hauling debris to the dumpster and, of course, cleaning up after each step, I can feel just a smidgen of satisfaction that I was able to go from identifying the leak to having everything ready for disposal and repair in the space of six days. My doctor did tell me I needed to lose weight and by golly, I think this week helped a lot.  Plus, I made best friends with my reciprocating saw.

One day of rest, then back to Zack Decker’s latest adventure. He’s been marking time since last week and getting mightily annoyed. Anyone who’s followed his saga will know that pissing off our former Pathfinder never ends well for anyone, not even his creator.

The Best Laid Schemes

As you know, I’ve been forced to do some basement renovations due to a bit of water intrusion earlier in the spring. Today, the tear down finally got to where I thought it had come in – figuring I’d find a minor matter quickly fixed before rebuilding. But things are never as simple as one hopes.

This is in the basement part of what we call the annex, where one day a four season sunroom will sit. Right now, the annex is only basement, with a flat roof a foot or so above ground level and simple wood deck on top of that, a deck on which I cook BBQ and we enjoy the summer.  It’s a bit like a bunker that way.

It was put in by some previous owner thirty years or so ago and he’d finished it in late 70s, early 80s style to provide space for a laundry room and workshop. I suppose he ran out of money after putting in a fully serviced additional foundation and never got around to building the planned extension above ground. I knew I wanted to spruce it up and bring a number of things up to code and make it more livable at some point, preferably after a new above ground structure sat on said foundation. The water intrusion forced me to act now.

Sadly, taking down the paneling and then the insulation, I discovered that the water was coming through a rotting piece of the roof, i.e. under the deck I just finished fixing to extend its life until we build that sunroom in 3-5 years. And that means the deck needs to be scrapped so the roofers can take out the current roof, replace the rotting wood and the re-roof the thing. After which, since we’re not ready to build the sunroom yet, I have to build a new deck, as cheaply as I can. The current deck was built for us out of red cedar over 15 years ago. I’ll build the replacement with pressure treated lumber and do it myself. At 25 feet by 12 feet, it’s not exactly small so I’ll try to stay cheap, seeing as how its lifespan is expected to be short.

I’ll be completing the tear down this week, while I get estimates for the roofing work and a dumpster big enough for the remains of the deck. After that, I’m at the mercy of the roofers. Until that’s fixed, i.e. the rotting wood removed and replaced and a new roof in place, I can’t rebuild the basement annex.  It needs to be fully protected against water intrusion again.

Fortunately, this came at about as good a time as possible. It’s the middle of July, which gives me plenty of time to get everything done before winter, when I must have fresh insulation in place. I have my full days to work on the project while my editor finishes up with Like Stars in Heaven and I’m over a quarter done with Decker #4.

As Robbie Burns famously said, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, / Gang aft agley.”

And when they do go ‘agley’ as the Scottish bard so pungently puts it, I’m thankful for our ‘oh shit’ fund in the bank, money set aside exactly for these kind of unforeseen expenses.

Such is life.  Full of unexpected wonders.  Mind you, there’s nothing like an immediate problem to get a professional procrastinator like me going at full speed, so there is a silver lining to that particular cloud.

A good thing I’ve been watching reno shows on TV every evening for the last few weeks (Mike Holmes, Leave it to Bryan, etc).

Study in Gray

This weekend’s weather hasn’t been conducive to much outdoor activities, sadly. Yesterday, the rain came down in buckets for most of the day, which must have cheered up farmers to no end and even today, as I write this blog post, the gray skies threaten more rain after a night of non-stop precipitation. I suppose I’ll have to get my exercise on the treadmill again.

Of course there’s always a silver lining and in this case, I was able to advance Howling Stars (Decker’s War Book 4) by a full chapter yesterday, and will likely do the same today – the first draft is already 20% complete. In the meantime, my editor is reviewing Like Stars in Heaven, but I’ve yet to get any sort of feedback.

I suppose that I can review my photos of the last few hikes to cheer myself up on this dark and dank day, but like most things, this too shall pass. If a rainy day is my biggest problem right now, then I am most fortunate indeed, although my poor dog, who was deprived of his walk yesterday and who might be deprived of today’s will surely disagree, it being one of the highpoints, if not the highpoint of his day. And I can understand him. Hiking in the woods on a fine summer’s day is one of the highpoints of my week.

And that being said, here’s a beetle I met in Gatineau Park last week.



The Hills Are Alive

With the sound of tiny flapping wings.  Lots of flapping wings.  Gatineau Park was obviously hosting a butterfly convention this weekend.  They seemed to be everywhere, such as here:


We also saw ladybugs getting frisky, in public!  Gasp!


The view, as usual, was splendid.  That’s the Ottawa River in the distance.


A lovely 7 kilometre hike to end the Canada Day long weekend was just the right thing for us.  Tomorrow, it’s back to the grind… at least for Mrs Thomson.  For me it’s back to revising Like Stars in Heaven.  I’m about three-quarters done as of right now, so it should land in my editor’s inbox this coming Tuesday.  Then, I need to get back to the renos I started a few weeks ago – while working on the first draft of Howling Stars of course.  I hope all my Canadian readers had a great Canada Day and to my American readers, have a great Fourth of July tomorrow.

Happy Birthday Canada

Call it Dominion Day or Canada Day – July 1st, 2016 marks the 149th birthday of this Confederation we call Canada.  I’ll be celebrating in traditional style with good Canadian beer, in this case from the Kichesippi Beer Company, and meat cooked over open flames, while listening to the sounds of Rush, Saga, k.d. lang and The Tragically Hip among many, many other rockin’ Canadian acts.  To all my Canadian readers, have a good one!